Between talking to girlfriends and female family members, flipping through magazines, and searching for answers on the internet, many women think they know quite a bit about women's reproductive health. And while it's not wrong to learn from others or take to the computer to learn new information, it's important to remember that just because you got an answer doesn't mean that the answer was correct. There are all kinds of questions OB-GYNs say you think you know the answers to, but likely don't, and they want to set the record straight.
"This scenario of patients looking up symptoms and already having a diagnosis is quite common in this day and age where the internet offers a robust source of information," Dr. Tami Prince, MD, an OB-GYN, the owner of Women’s Health and Wellness Center of Georgia, and a medical director with U.S. HealthWorks/Concentra, tells Romper in an email exchange. "Much of this information is erroneous. It is hard for lay people to know if what they are reading is true or not. It is up to us as physicians to help them navigate this overwhelming wealth of information."
Prince says that while she encourages her patients to be proactive, ask questions, and do research, she also thinks that guiding them to certain websites where she knows the information is solid can be quite helpful. Dr. Sierra Washington, MD, FACOG, an OB-GYN and associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California San Diego, tells Romper that she also tries to guide her patients to certain sources where she's confident that the information will be accurate.
"I think what I tend to tell my patients is, ‘you can find anything to support any theory on the internet and you can find anything to refute any theory on the internet,’ and so the internet is a great resource, but you have to know the reputable sources in which to look," she adds.
Though you might think that you have all the answers, you may be surprised to find out that you don't always have the entire story. Romper enlisted a few OB-GYNs to help set the record straight.
1. How Can I Get Pregnant Sooner?
Dr. Katharine O'Connell White, MD, MPH, an OB-GYN and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University School of Medicine, tells Romper that while many women think that they can crowd source advice about the best way to get pregnant if they've been having difficulties, there are a lot of misconceptions out there and what works for some people won't necessarily work for everyone else.
"‘Oh, all I need to do is have sex more often or have sex in a certain position, or try this drink, or I need to relax, I need to have less stress,’ I think the internet is worst around things around pregnancy and the rabbit holes that you can fall down when you are looking for advice around pregnancy can lead to many sleepless nights," she says. "There are a lot of reasons women aren’t getting pregnant as fast as they want to and a good conversation with your gyno about how often and when you’re having sex can help, but don’t necessarily listen to your friends or your mother-in-law or the internet that are telling you you just need to relax because that might not be the case."
2. Is My Pelvic Pain Due To An Ovarian Cyst?
"That’s one of the big leaps that women make is that any pain below the belly button on one side or another must be their ovary," O'Connell White. "And the truth is that there are a lot of other structures in your pelvis besides your lady parts, so it may be a cyst, but it could also be problems with your bowels, like constipation, it could also be problems with your bladder, like an infection or a condition called interstitial cystitis, or it could be muscular-skeletal, which is the umbrella term for pain when your muscles and joints aren’t working together in the way that they should."
O'Connell White adds that this doesn't mean that there's nothing wrong or that you're not actually feeling pain, but just that it could be for a number of reasons, only one of which is an ovarian cyst. So having an honest and complete discussion with your doctor could help get to the bottom of what's really going on.
3. Is My Pelvic Pain Endometriosis?
Prince says that she's also experienced patients saying that they think they have endometriosis because they're dealing with pelvic pain and searched the internet for their symptoms, when they actually don't have endometriosis, but rather may have an infection or other issue. Again, you very well could have endometriosis, but just because it's what you found on the internet doesn't mean that that's the diagnosis you'll receive from your doctor.
4. Is It A Problem If My Blood Sugar Or Pressure Numbers Are The Same As They Typically Are?
Just because your blood sugar or blood pressure numbers are about the same as they typically are doesn't necessarily mean that everything is fine. Prince says that sometimes patients will ask about their numbers, thinking it's OK so long as they're around where they normally are. "They have a pre-conceived notion that if the blood pressure or sugars always run high that it's normal," she adds. "They think that if they continue their normal routine that they are fine." Talking through these conditions and issues with your physicians and asking questions can help you better-understand when things truly are OK and when you need to take action or pay closer attention.
5. Will The Levonorgestrel IUD Cause Pelvic Pain Or Infertility?
Washington says that some patients have heard that that the levonorgestrel IUD can cause pelvic pain or even infertility and so they think they know that it does. She says that it's highly unlikely that you'd experience something like this, even if you've seen anecdotal evidence blaming the device for these issues. "It has not been shown to increase risk of pelvic infection or infertility and if it’s placed correctly, it should not cause substantial pelvic pain," she says.
It's still important to weigh the pros and cons and sift through all the available information when you're determining which method of birth control might be best for you, but you might learn along the way that some of what you thought isn't exactly as it's been depicted.
6. Anything About HPV
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is something that you may have heard more about over the last decade or so, so you might think you generally know the facts. That being said, Dr. Jessica White-Videa, DO, FACOG, a TopLine MD OB-GYN in South Florida, tells Romper by email that though patients often think they know everything about HPV, that's typically not the case. Questions about the virus, long-term impact that it can have, and even the vaccine can all be directed to your doctor so that you understand the important topic a little bit better.
7. What's The Cause Of My Vaginal Discharge?
"Discharge is one of the most common reasons women come see a gynecologist and everyone assumes it’s a yeast infection, when it is equally likely to be an infection called bacterial vaginosis, or BV, and maybe something more dangerous, like a STI," O'Connell White says. "Somehow, 'discharge equals yeast' became popular in the culture and I think one of the reasons is that because that’s the only thing that there are over-the-counter treatments for. If you go to the drugstore to try to treat the symptom you’re having, you are met with a wall of anti-fungal products, so you assume that, ‘well, one of these must help me.’ Happily, it’s a very easy test to figure out what’s causing the discharge so that you can get the right medicine for whatever infection you’re having, if indeed you have an infection at all."
And then if you don't have an infection or any other major issue, your doctor can also help talk you through more about discharge, when to worry, and when you might not need to. Just because it might not be a yeast infection doesn't mean you're in the clear, but discharge also doesn't necessarily mean it's time to panic either — discharge is normal, O'Connell White says.
It just goes to show that many patients might not know quite as much as they might think they do, so even asking your doctor what you think is a silly or unnecessary question could end up teaching you an awful lot — plus, chances are it's nothing that they haven't heard before.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.